Murderer! Or misunderstood?
In September 2006, “Crocodile hunter” Steve Irwin was killed during a snorkeling trip to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. The culprit: the bull ray. The bull ray’s barb had supposedly pierced his chest and into his heart. Moments later when the paramedics arrived, widely celebrated Irwin had already been pronounced dead. Many critics like Dr Colin Simpfendorfer, a former research scientist of the Western Australian Fisheries Department argued that it was not the bull ray which killed Irwin, but instead it is more likely to be the cowtail stingray. Till today there is no confirmation to which species was responsible for the celebrity’s death.
However the question should be: “Are stingrays as dangerous as we think?”
According to the Journal of Travel Medicine, stingrays are docile and usually non-aggressive. They only attack humans if provoked or threatened. Towards the end of the tails lies its venom. The long spines of the stingrays, measuring several inches long lay within the tail known as the cuneiform area, lie hidden from sight when unthreatened.
When threatened, the stingray begins its tail whip; the barbs on the spine tear through the tissue of the tail and juts out at an angle perpendicular to the tail. Some species of stingrays’ spines are so tough they can pierce bone, but they are mostly brittle and can even break off from the stingray and get stuck in the wound. Fortunately (or unfortunately), broken spines are able to regenerate quickly in stingrays as their only defense mechanism.
A venom coating the barb is also released into the body through the wound, a process called envenomation. Though venomous, most stingray attacks are not fatal.
So should we be afraid of stingrays?
Stingrays are generally non-aggressive and the only reason why you would be stung by a stingray is that you have stepped on one or you are mistaken as a predator. Steve Irwin was probably mistaken as a predator and in an act of defense, the stingray impaled his chest.
The next time you visit Underwater World and the River Safari, you should have a peace of mind interacting with these creatures.
Clark, Josh. “Is a dead stingray’s sting still lethal?” 02 March 2009. HowStuffWorks.com. <http://science.howstuffworks.com/zoology/marine-life/dead-stingray-still-lethal.htm> Accessed on 10 April 2013.
Diaz, J. H. (2008), The Evaluation, Management, and Prevention of Stingray Injuries in Travelers. Journal of Travel Medicine, 15: 102–109
Taking The Sting Out Of The Ray. Mote Marine Laboratory. <http://www.mote.org/index.php?src=directory&view=magazine&refno=723&srctype=magazine_detail> Accessed on 10 April 2013
Premium Snorkel and Stingray City. Jaital. <http://www.jaital.com/premium-snorkel-and-stingray-city-tour_Byp1_8640.html> Accessed on 10 April 2013.
Stingray attacks in San Diego on the rise in 2012 – How to protect yourself and cure the stingray sting, by Chris Racan. 25 July 2012. <http://www.sdsurflife.com/2012/07/stingray-attacks-in-san-diego-on-rise.html> Accessed on 10 April 2013.
“Southern Stingray”, by Doug Perrine. Naturepl.com. Hosted on Arkive.org. < http://www.arkive.org/southern-stingray/dasyatis-americana/image-G26546.html> Accessed on 10 April 2013.